Is there any glamorous leadership? Christianity and poverty

Reading Paulo Freire earlier this month, I had an epiphany. Well, it was really a series of epiphanies. All reinforced by sharing some conversation space with two fantastic Latin American leaders and musicians here at a Calvin College seminar.

One principle I hold to is that if the church is going to declare something universally true, then it has to hold up to scrutiny from other parts of the world (pretty darn simple premise, yes?).

Well I’ve been warned by Christian pastors to be careful with who I hang around, as those very people affect your potential. The idea is that hanging out with turkeys prevents an eagle using its wings, or that being among frogs will prevent a fish from swimming successfully. Well that seems like a load of powerful posturing to me, a hierarchy of sorts in humanity. And it also seems entirely unbiblical. Not only was Jesus ‘unmarred’ by the strange group he hung around, the reality is that there is no such thing as glamorous, always-a-great-hair-day Christian leadership in the Bible. There are scenes of human leadership beset with sin (aside of course from Jesus), overcoming despite themselves. Paul. David. Moses. Deborah.

Although Jackie Onassis type images of Christian model glamazons are common, with their Ralph Lauren husbands spouting tweetable, funny pastor types jokes, this is simply cultural rather than biblical. I don’t begrudge most of these people their culture – in fact, I find it entertaining, and I believe that God can and does use people like these. But let’s be real about it, as Richard Wuthnow shows in his excellent exposition of American Christianity, the deal is that most Christians in the West are highly privileged. We are not  poor in the West… we are rich. And yet, we don’t know what to do with this power. The models of leadership we have are on one hand an impoverished Christ handing himself over to the Sanhedrin to be crucified, and the other a rich church. And, strangely enough, here in the States there are many Latino or Hispanic Christians living as Christ was, preaching wanderers, accustomed to poverty. Enough to make one pause and think.

According to Freire, if you are a leader, the only way to possibly be great is to have the identity of the person you are leading rub off on you. He considers truly great leadership to occur only when:

“[the leader] stops making pious, sentimental, and individual gestures and risks an act of love”

Beautiful thought, hey. And, in fact, I’d like to get up close and dirty with those I’m in community with, and risk an act of love. I’m sure most of us would prefer a gospel that allows us to be human, even if we’re intensely scared of that very thing.

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